There are many factors and actors shaping the uncertainty around North Korea, and if someone makes a mistake that could lead to a conflict that no one wants, security expert Dr Jim Walsh told RT.
The specialist on security and nuclear weapons at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology adds, though, that this is not the first time we’ve seen provocation and brinksmanship on the part of North Korea.
RT: Pyongyang is sabre-rattling, Washington is sending
arms to that part of the world. Mr. Walsh, what is going
Dr Jim Walsh: In some ways it’s a repeat of what we’ve seen in previous plays. You know, this is not the first time we’ve seen brinksmanship, provocation on the part of North Koreans – this is sort of their playbook and we are used to it. But I agree things are different in other ways. We see things we’ve never seen before like the US use of B52 and B2 bombers – they are symbolically flying over South Korea. The thing that I would be watching right now is the Kaesong industrial complex. South Korean workers go there to work and then return to South Korea. The North Koreans have stopped that and so there are about 800 South Korean workers in North Korea waiting for that to resume. In the past when things have gotten bad Kaesong still kept going. Once in 2009 it was suspended and one other time, but basically that sort of chugged along. If they shut that down permanently that would be a sign that something is very different.
RT: What is the purpose of America surrounding the
Peninsula with ships, jets and anti-missile systems? Isn't this
only making it worse?
JW: I think you can make a case from that. I might have handled it a little differently. You need to understand the rationale – the US is first sending a signal to the South Koreans, its treaty ally, saying ‘We’ve got your back, you don’t have to worry, we’ll protect you’. For the first time ever this week the presidential press spokesperson raised this idea and said that one of the reasons they do it is that they don’t want South Korea to take unilateral action. I’ve never heard anyone say this before. That’s clearly a concern of the White House. So, one is to send this message to South Korea and Japan, and it’s also intended to send the message to the North Koreans saying ‘We can reach out and touch you so be careful what you wish for’. It’s also a message to the US, the American public saying ‘Look, we are doing something about this, we are taking it seriously’. I do worry though that, you know, with all these moving pieces, all these new leadership in South and North Korea, all this stuff going on someone could make a mistake and that could light a match that would lead to a conflict that no one actually wants to have.
RT: We're also hearing about mass troop movements in China. How would you factor that in?
JW: I saw some press report last week about that. That
could mean two things that could be multiple things. Sometimes the
Chinese will mobilize in support of North Korea during the big
naval exercises that the US and North Korea do jointly. The Chinese
response to that is meant to signal to their ally, to North Korea
‘Everything is going to be fine, don’t do anything crazy’. This
could be though, given the circumstances, preparations for just in
case something does go badly, you know, when something goes wrong
and there is a conflict on the Korean peninsular. I think we have
to watch this specifically and see where all these movements are
and what particular units there are. But right now the Chinese may
be hedging their bets a little.